California State Commissioners, the Council of San Benito County Governments and other officials stand near the 15-mile Highway 156 improvement project. Photo by Monserrat Solis.
California State Commissioners, the Council of San Benito County Governments and other officials stand near the 15-mile Highway 156 improvement project. Photo by Monserrat Solis.

Worn-out roads, a lack of funding and the effects of climate change are the challenges facing the region, officials said at the Council of San Benito County Governments (COG) town hall meeting Sept. 20.

The event was held at Paine’s Restaurant in Hollister and attended by about 50 people including the California Transportation Commission, the 13-member body responsible for allocating transportation funds throughout the state, to discuss transportation needs in the county. 

Assemblyman Robert Rivas said while San Benito County is meeting its state housing goals, roads are the biggest issue because of the area’s high volume of commuters and agricultural freight drivers.

“Over the past 15 years, housing costs and other factors have pushed more and more Californians into San Benito County. The solution is simple,” he said. “We need transportation infrastructure that meets demand.”

But it’s not that easy, he said. “The process of securing approvals and getting state projects started has been terribly, terribly slow.”  

During a panel discussion, San Benito County Office of Emergency Services manager Kris Mangano said the county faces a shortage of funds and staffing. 

  • Drivers heading toward the Highway 156/25 roundabout Aug. 26, 2023. Photo by Noe Magaña.
  • Over 50 people attended the town hall hosted by the Council of San Benito County Governments. Photo by Noe Magaña.
  • California State Commissioners, the Council of San Benito County Governments and other officials stand near the 15-mile Highway 156 improvement project. Photo by Monserrat Solis.
  • Town Hall attendees walk under the Fabric of Life mural in San Juan Bautista during Thursday's tour. Photo by Monserrat Solis.
  • California State Commissioners and the Council of San Benito County Governments attend San Benito Regional Town Hall. Photo by Monserrat Solis.

She said the county struggles to keep up with neighboring counties, which are larger and normally have more resources. 

Maura Twomey, executive director for the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments added that the effects of climate change and climate resiliency are among the obstacles the region is facing, where major flooding and wildfires have already impacted roads.

After the panel, Binu Abraham, executive director for the San Benito Council of Governments, the county’s regional transportation agency consisting of two county supervisors representatives, two Hollister City Council members and a San Juan Bautista City Council member, emphasized the importance of climate resiliency. 

“One of the things we need to consider, or we are considering in our planning process, is to include strategies to meet climate resiliency more than we have looked at before because this is becoming more frequent and natural disaster is now part of our life,” Abraham said.

In January when Hwy 25 flooded, it wasn’t just commuters who were impacted, but students driving to Gavilan College and seniors seeking medical treatment in neighboring counties, Abraham said.

On Sept. 21 a tour bus took COG commissioners and other county officials to visit the ongoing projects in the county. 

Hwy 156

  • The $130.7 million Highway 156 improvement project expands the highway to a four-lane expressway from The Alameda in San Juan Bautista to near the San Juan-Hollister road in Hollister. It’s set to provide a continuous expressway from the Hwy 101 connection to Hollister. 
  • Connecting the cities of Hollister and San Juan Bautista with the Central Valley, the highway is predicted to decrease traffic delay by 1,902 hours daily, the project report said. 
  • The existing route will become a frontage road. 
  • The project is expected to be completed in summer 2025. 

San Juan Bautista Mural

  • The new Fabric of Life mural under the Washington Street bridge in San Juan Bautista is funded through the Clean California State Beautification Project, a grant program that aims to beautify, clean and create jobs in the state.
  • The project contracted Los Angeles-based artist Yanoe Zoeuh to transform a gray bridge into colorful art. According to the San Benito County Arts Council, the budget for the project is $160,000.
  • The mural, which features folklorico dancers, includes images of California poppies, a hummingbird and rancheros on their horses. 

Turbo Roundabout 

  • The Turbo Roundabout sits at the intersection of Highways 156 and 25. When completed, the roundabout will be 240 feet in diameter, offer three-inch dividers, overhead signage and pavement marking.
  • The goal of the roundabout is to reduce collisions between commuters and freight drivers.
  • Costing $14.9 million and funded through the State Highway Operation and Protection Program, the project is expected to be completed in spring 2024.
  • A video explaining how to use the roundabout will be posted on Caltrans District Five’s YouTube page in the fall. 

Hwy 25

  • Located in San Benito County, the Hwy 25 expressway conversion aims to build a four-lane expressway that would improve traffic flow. The expressway would replace the 11.2 miles of the existing two-lane highway.
  • COG and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority requested the project. The project’s estimated cost is $175.6 million.
  • San Benito County voters passed Measure G in 2018 which approved an additional 1% sales tax to fund local road projects. Of the expected $485 million of additional revenue over 30 years, $242 million was earmarked for the Hwy 25 expansion project. 

At the end of the tour, Hollister Mayor Mia Casey explained the importance of transportation to the city and thanked the state transportation commissioners for visiting San Benito County.

“We’re severely impacted by the growth,” Casey said. “I hope that you see what a priority this was. Because it’s not just housing issues, but the traffic issues currently,” she told commission members. 

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Monserrat Solis covers San Benito County for BenitoLink as part of the California Local News Fellowship with UC Berkeley. A San Fernando Valley native, she's written for the Southern California News Group,...